Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2022
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Strong Effort - 83%

jontayl, November 20th, 2022
Written based on this version: 2022, 12" vinyl + CD, InsideOut Music (Limited edition, 2 colours)

James LaBrie has gone through many changes in his career. He has weathered some better than others. As he steadily loses his ability to hit the high notes (it happens to every singer, and it’s only a bad thing if the singer doesn’t adjust), one has to wonder if he has anything left in the tank. Listening to him struggle through the show on the Images & Words & Beyond tour was an unpleasant task, and his struggles in the studio have been audible since Mike Portnoy was still in Dream Theater. With this in mind, one cannot help but think of what James LaBrie could accomplish if he sang in a lower register, and without having to compete with John Petrucci and Jordan Ruddess for attention. Those who seek an answer to this question need not look further than A Beautiful Shade of Grey, which is easily LaBrie’s best solo album. Stripped back, almost exclusively acoustic, and intricately structured, A Beautiful Shade of Grey is worth a couple, if not a few dozen, listens.

“Devil in Drag,” with its fun hooks and beguiling lyrics, leads off the album and immediately showcases what LaBrie is trying to accomplish. With his voice mixed to the forefront and enchanting picking by lead guitarist Marco Sfogli, we’re shown that LaBrie and his band are more than capable of producing some genuinely satisfying progressive rock music, similar in timbre to Pink Floyd at their heaviest or Rush at their softest. While it’s rare to see LaBrie sing in his middle register–and with more melody than aggressiveness–it’s a welcome surprise.

No one will accuse LaBrie of being a particularly great lyricist. The album’s lyrics do tend to be somewhat lacking in terms of originality. The lyrics in “SuperNova Girl,” for instance, have been written a million times by a million different artists. The chorus to “Hit Me Like a Brick” is fun and catchy, but one cannot help but think that the "I never saw it coming/it right knocked me on my ass" line could’ve been penned a bit more creatively. But make no mistake about it: LaBrie still manages to pack some meaningful and intelligent messaging into his words. “Give and Take” condemns amoral profiteering without being preachy (no small task). “Wildflower,” a darkling ballad that Bernie Taupin would’ve been proud to pen, admixes hope and despair against the backdrop of deceptively inviting soundscapes. For every cheesy or meaningless line on this album, there’s a witty and powerful one.

The instrumentation is what truly puts Beautiful Shade of Grey on a level above LaBrie’s prior solo work. Christian Pulkkinen of Eden’s Curse ably fills out both the high and low ends of the mix with brilliant textured synths and keyboards, perhaps most obvious on the closing track, “Am I Wrong.” His role is important in elevating the acoustic bass and guitars; he is the reason that this album does not sound like any other generic acoustic rock disc. Chance LaBrie, James’ son, provided drums and did his father proud, tastefully winding through irregular beats with considerable skill and locking in with bassist Paul Logue. Notably, Logue is also credited with rhythm guitars, and his abilities should not be understated. However, it is lead guitarist Marco Sfogli who shines most brightly. His finest hour comes in the electric version of “Devil in Drag,” which was included as a bonus track, though his captivating solo in “Give and Take” is also a true standout.

All in all, A Beautiful Shade of Grey is a fantastic album for easy listening. The most interesting parts of each song are smartly mixed to the forefront, the hooks are catchy, and the sounds are inviting, even if ever so slightly lacking in musical ambition. 83/100.